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Foundation of the Refugee Council of Australia

The foundation meeting of the Refugee Council of Australia was held on 19 November 1981 in the boardroom of the Australian Council of Churches, 199 Clarence Street, Sydney. The meeting was called by Major General Paul Cullen, the president of Austcare, who informed the six others present that he had been instructed by the Executive Committee of Austcare to convene a foundation meeting of the Council. Those present discussed and modified the Interim Constitution and elected office bearers:

  • President – Major General Paul Cullen (representing the Federation of Australian Jewish Welfare Societies);
  • Chairman – Rev Martin Chittleborough (Australian Council of Churches)
  • Vice Chairman – Rex Hubbard (Save the Children Fund)
  • Secretary/Treasurer – Michael Carroll (Austcare)
  • Executive members – Roger Walker (World Vision), Sid Bartsch (Lutheran World Federation) and Ted Bacon (St Vincent de Paul Society)

The following afternoon, 20 November 1981, a public meeting of the Council was held in the boardroom of the Local Government Association, 215 Clarence Street, Sydney. With 41 people present, Major General Cullen outlined the background to the Council’s formation and presented the Constitution for adoption. Regional Representative of UNHCR, Dr Hugo Idoyaga, was on hand to pass of the congratulations of the High Commissioner and express his hopes for a significant and deepening relationship between the new Council and UNHCR. The Council also received its first donation, from Canberra Times editor, Ian Mathews, who forwarded his newspaper’s share of the UN Association of Australia Media Peace Prize.

The following week, on 25 November 1981, a delegation of four members of the Council met the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Ian Macphee, in response to a request of the Minister. This was the first of many meetings between the Council and senior Ministers to discuss the community sector’s ideas and concerns about Australia’s approach to supporting refugees.

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Senior office bearers


1981-1990 – Major General Paul Cullen AC CBE DSE ED
1990-1995 – Rev Fr Jeffries Foale
1996-2006 – David Bitel
2006-2012 – John Gibson AM
2012-2021 – Phil Glendenning AM
2021-present – Jasmina Bajraktarevic-Hayward


1981-1990 – Rev Martin Chittleborough
1991-1992 – Alan Matheson
1992-1994 – Robert Mister
1994-1995 – David Bitel
1996-1998 – Barbara Young
1998-2003 – Professor William Maley AM
2003-2008 – Barbara Young AO
2008-2011 – Esta Paschalidis-Chilas
2011-2016 – Sonia Caton
2016-2018 – Lis de Vries
2019-present – Maya Cranitch AM

Vice Chairpersons

1981-1982 – Rex Hubbard
1982-1990 – Rev Fr Jeffries Foale
1987-1989 – Kerry Boland
1990-1991 – Marion Webster
1991 – Rev John Mavor
1992 – Robert Mister
1992-1995 – Hermine Partamian
1992-1995 – Alan Matheson
(Two Vice-Chairpersons from 1987-1995)

Vice President

1995-2004 – Kevin Liston
2004-2006 – John Gibson
2006-present – Professor William Maley AM


A full-time secretariat was established in March 1985 when a full-time Executive Officer was appointed. This position was renamed Executive Director in 1986 and Chief Executive Officer in 2006. From 1985, the secretariat was based at Austcare’s Sydney office, initially in Broadway and then in Camperdown. A separate RCOA office was established in Glebe in 1999. In 2006, the Sydney office moved to its current location in Surry Hills.

Executive Director

1985-1991 – Luke Hardy
1991-2005 – Margaret Piper

Chief Executive Officer

2006-present – Paul Power

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